Here’s the first half of my interview with Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey) on October 17, 2009. Even divided (you can find Part 2 here), it’s hefty, so buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy night!
Let me tell you that Michael is joyful. The transcript is full of [laughs] meaning Michael laughed, but there are only enough of those to get the flavor across; I couldn’t possibly include them all, because he laughs so much! There’s also such a relaxed quality that you couldn’t possibly guess from Paul Kinsey.
As I was setting up my recorder, we were making small talk and Michael referred to a portion of his family as “the West Coast Gladi [or “Gladii”].” I cannot tell you how much that charms me, as a person prone to sticking “i” on the end of just about any word to make a fake Latin plural. So now you know: The plural of Gladis=Gladi.
Deborah Lipp: I have a news item on my desk that says “Michael Palin was thrilled to meet the guys from Mad Men.”
Michael Gladis: I’m a huge Monty Python fan, I was weaned on Monty Python, so to be able to go to that event the other night, and to see all the surviving members in one room, and to have them make funny jokes and be able to laugh at them in person, or with them, rather, was amazing. And then even more amazing to meet them afterwards and then to walk up to Michael Palin and for him to look up at me and say “Oh! I love your show!” That was incredible!
That’s gotta be pretty much it, right?
That’s pretty much it.
Who did you go with?
I brought my friend Stelyani Teknachov, good luck with that name. [How’d I do?] She rolled her ankle on the red carpet and almost broke it, that was fun.
Red carpet antics abound! So I was a human crutch for much of the night, but she’s wonderful, she’s a dear old friend. And Rich [Sommer] was there. It was a good night.
I guess Rich is in town doing Law & Order?
He is, yeah. A whole bunch of us are in town right now. [For Elisabeth Moss’s wedding, which I can now reveal since I took so long transcribing!]
At which point I invited Michael to our season finale, but he’s leaving town before that, darn it!
I’ve been here for the whole month, I can’t impose on my friends anymore. I’ve been staying here since late September. I need the whole month of October in New York because I need my fix of autumn.
And then we chatted nonsensically about the finale and when I get my screeners, which led to:
I’m nervous about [episode] ten [The Color Blue]. Did it come out well?
Ten was amazing! That’s why I called!
Talk about it, because you were so loose. You’re acting all by yourself in a room, it was like you were a kid.
It was fun! That was such a gift. When I got that script I immediately, of course, called Matt, just to thank him. To have them write that for me was an honor. It’s an honor. We haven’t lost sight of that, yet, that what we’re doing is so wonderful. To have Matt trust me with that was incredible. My only goal was to serve it, really.
When I think about acting, having visited the set and seeing how many times Michael Uppendahl made Kiernan answer the phone, like thirty? I guess the question is what do you do to stay loose? Because that was a very loose scene.
What do I do to stay loose? I don’t know. Thankfully, the set is home, now. And I’m lucky enough to; I don’t know how you stay loose. Every day is different and every day’s a challenge. It’s what I do though, so I just go in and try to do the best work I can. Preparation, preparation, preparation, preparation. It’s all about that.
My favorite part of all of it was when you stamped your feet on the floor.
[laughs] That little celebration of the idea?
[laughs] Yes! I think that was the last shot of the day. And you know what was funny about that? After I did like four takes of that, as pathetic as this may sound, that feet stomping was the most ab workout I’ve done in quite a long time. My abs hurt afterwards.
That’s funny. [both laugh]
I remember thinking, wow am I out of shape!
That’s funny. Well you probably did it fifty times. You probably ran a mile.
We don’t get that many takes. You may have seen Kiernan answer the phone fifty times but in general we have to move so fast, because we shoot in seven days. If possible, we’ll get three, four takes of something, but if it’s pretty right we’ll move on. They’ll take more time with some things, but in general, we’ve got to move.
I was wondering that, with watching—we watched part of [episode] 10 being filmed and part of [episode] 11 being filmed.
You weren’t there when I was there.
No! We were so disappointed [not to meet you and more of the cast]. We were in your office.
The only person [at Sterling Cooper] filming the day we were there was John Slattery and a guest star for 11.
Oh, you got to see John Slattery work, which was a wonderful, beautiful thing.
Was it fun to watch?
It was fascinating and it was engrossing.
And here we diverge into a discussion of the glory that is film locations, and I shared about my James Bond fetish. But we brought it back to the beauty of the Mad Men set in short order.
It’s so much fun, I love taking people on tour of the set, just walking people through everything—who love the show.
It’s a beautiful set. It’s also not too beautiful. It’s a little run-down, which I love.
That’s part of the whole deal is, they keep it real.
One question about…The Color Blue is, you have that “My God” at the end…After you’ve lost your idea, and you and Peggy and Don are meeting…
I know exactly what you’re talking about. What’s your question about the “My God.”
Talk about what’s going through Paul’s mind.
What do you think is going through Paul’s mind first, and then I’ll tell you.
Well, my feeling is that he let go of his bullshit and just realized she was really good.
That’s it. It’s two parts. It’s realizing how good Peggy is at her job, and then him also realizing that he’s not. And that’s it.
Wow. There’s the second part of that, right, which is painful for Paul.
Right, of course. Because the whole thing with Paul is his pride. And that, maybe more than anything, is probably how I am most similar to Paul Kinsey, and what I have to learn from Paul Kinsey. That has maybe been the greatest gift of playing him, is that kind of central aspect to his character. He’s so proud.
He really is, and that was why, I think—and I just rewatched My Old Kentucky Home last night—and I think the aspect of his pride and of his vanity was so irritated by his friend Jeffrey.
Yeah, for being called out.
Yep. But they say our greatest weaknesses are our greatest gifts. I mean, how did he pull himself up in Princeton when he was Jersey boy on a scholarship without that pride?
Exactly. And I think that’s been the driving force for his success, for him pulling himself up by his bootstraps.
Yeah, that was a delightful scene.
The pot-smoking stuff? And the singing, yeah, that was so much fun to shoot. That was [laughs]. Another gift this season. Really so much fun.
How long did that take to shoot?
All the pot-smoking stuff or just the singing?
I meant the pot-smoking.
That was spread over a couple of days. There is one funny moment from that episode that’s become an inside joke on Mad Men. When Smitty asks for Paul’s sweater and I say “It’s mohair.” That’s one example where I think I did that line, oooooh, fifty times.
And they were looking—it was Dahvi Waller, and Jen Getzinger was directing, and they were looking for some minutia, some specific reading. I don’t know exactly what they were looking for and I don’t know that they ever got it, but I know they ended up using, I think like the third take..It’s become like, Charlie Collier, the head of AMC, gets the dailies for everything, so he watches everything as we shoot it. He came up to me shortly after we shot that scene and just said [deadpan] “It’s mohair.” And I knew that he had seen all of them. God, he had seen me say that line a billion times.
Oh my God, that’s funny.
Taking to Dahvi and Jen later, they were like, “Oh, yeah, we absolutely got it. We got it, we were so happy with it.” They didn’t need fifty takes.
I loved the whole, “It’s mohair!” I’ve heard people say that sort of thing. Not with mohair, but cashmere. “No!”
“No you can’t use it as a floor mop.”
“No, you’re not going to stick that in the crack of the door. No.” Yeah, that was a fun scene. That was great. The guy who played Jeffrey was wonderful.
And what a voice.
Yeah, right? He actually sang in a capella groups at Harvard, I believe. He wasn’t a Princeton boy, but he was, he’s actually a Harvard alum and I believe he sang in a capella groups there.
Did you ever do that? Do a capella?
I did, yeah. I used to sing in so many choirs. In high school I was in four choirs, one of which was a madrigal group. So that was twelve people: A capella Renaissance madrigals. And then usually at the end of the school year, in spring, we would do some a capella jazz as well. And then when I got to college I also did; in my first college. when I went to art school at Alfred, I was part of an a capella group there too.
That is cool. My son is obsessed with college a capella groups.
They are! They’re awesome.
And this is just going to be much more ammo for Rich Sommer to call me a nerd.
Apparently that’s Rich’s hobby.
[laughs] It really is!
And I totally called him out. I made a Star Trek reference to him and he didn’t get it. And I’m like, how dare you call yourself a nerd.
He’s not that kind of nerd.
Yeah, apparently there’s sub-nerds.
Yeah, trust me, he’s a nerd though.
Way bigger than me. WAY bigger than me.
So what makes you nerdiest?
Oh, it never ends. Anything from a capella groups to fencing to archery to chess. I’ve got ‘em down.
I love that. I think there are people in this world who are just too nerdy for me, but I think mostly nerdy people are more interesting.
Usually they have more active imaginations.
So how do you come about laying on the floor reciting The Hollow Men? Is that in the script, laying on the floor?
In episode 3? “This is the way the world ends.”
The reference is, Paul is still freaking out about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how close—I think we forget how much the nuclear race, or the threat of nuclear Armageddon, was at the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve been living with the stockpiles of these weapons that can obliterate the earth for so long now that we’re not particularly concerned about it. Which is stupid, actually. But at that time, they were so close. You talk to people who lived through it, and they’re like, “We were scared.” Everybody was so scared. So I think it’s him having a stoned freakout.
Yeah. I’m interested in the blocking, with the laying on the floor.
They’re sitting next to me in front of the couch.
Was that scripted or did you play with it?
Oh, that was scripted. That was pure Matt.
So Matt says “Paul is laying on the floor.”
Yeah, I don’t have the script with me unfortunately, but I believe so.
That is funny.
Yeah, well Matt is funny.
There’s a lot of laughs in that. You could not open the Internet the following day without seeing “I am Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana.”
That’s what we wanted on our t-shirts this year. I don’t think we got it, but that’s what should have been on our t-shirts this year.
That’s the line of the season. So far. And I think that…Peggy was right [in My Old Kentucky Home]; Paul is not noticing her as a person and to me, part of that final scene [in The Color Blue] was that he noticed her.
Yeah absolutely. Absolutely, that’s the whole point.
That’s a human being who is an advertising professional, not the available girl.
Right. And I love it as an evolution of Paul and Peggy’s relationship going all the way back to season one, episode two [Ladies Room], when he gives her the tour of the office and shows her the ropes and eventually ends up hitting on her, and viewing her, even back then, as the new girl and maybe the object of of affection. And then, as she rises through the ranks, going to the last episode of season one when she was promoted to copywriter and Paul has the line, “Oh, don’t act surprised.” It’s pure unmasked…envy and disdain. Just pure unmasked disdain for Peggy. And then in episode 10 [of season 3] she actually bails him out.
And she is not even, as a character she’s simply not ego-driven. She’s ambitious, but she was not interested in who got credit for that.
No. She is so generous and there’s no malice whatsoever. She could easily leave Paul to hang, and she doesn’t. She helps him out.
And I think that sometimes it’s about; I identified with just serving the work. I [have] worked on writing projects with people where they get their egos all stepped over by something they said…I’m not interested in which of our egos get hurt, I’m interested in creating good writing.
Right. Exactly. And I think she takes it to heart when Don kind of dresses her down. He says ‘you’re good, but get better,’ something along those lines, in one of the episodes recently. Get better. And so I think she is. She’s going to do that.
She’s pretty amazing. Oh [and I loved] Paul Kinsey Theater.
Oh yeah! Was that episode 10? I lose track, I totally lose track.
Well I just watched it so it’s fresh in my mind.
Paul Kinsey Theater, that was fun.
That was very, very funny. So he’s not untalented. That was kind of a delightful advertisement.
But again you get the whole, Peggy taking his seed of an idea and simplifying it and crystalizing and and actually making it better. Which of course he resents. Then he barges into her office and he has that great line of “I don’t need you to put your little swirl on top of my idea.” Actually what she was doing was simplifying it and making it a more effective ad.
One thing I noticed when you talk about Paul’s pride, is that he does seem to be the most emotional person.
I think his emotions are very close to the surface. He’s very bad at masking them.
You always see his reaction.
And that’s one thing about this series, is to varying degrees Matt wants everything to be very close to the vest. But I think it’s fun that Paul is somewhat more transparent than anyone else in the office.
He is really transparent, and that’s interesting. I think that sometimes it makes him look bad, but I don’t think he has necessarily more pride than other people. I think that they just swallow.
Yeah, it’s just more obvious with Paul.
Like the Season 1 competition with Ken.
Right and he loses it and he’s a dick to Ken but at the end he goes up and he does swallow his pride and he says ‘I’m really sorry.’
And that was my favorite, of all of the things that Paul has said, turning to Ken and saying, “You’re a writer. You—write.”
[laughs] I love that line.
That’s my favorite line, it’s beautiful.
It’s great. I put it in our Quotes section, and I thought, if you look at it out of context, it means nothing, but it’s beautiful.
I imagine that is something at some point that either was said to Matt or that he said to someone else. Because Matt actually turned to me, it was about the line, “I don’t need you to put your little swirl on top of my idea,” that Paul says to Peggy [in The Color Blue]. [It] was actually said to Matt when he was a staff writer on another show.
They were bantering ideas about the writer’s room on whatever the show was, and he added to this old writer’s idea and he said that to him later. I remember Matt turning to me, because I was surprised, I was surprised that he was the subject of the line and not…the one who spoke it at one point, and he turned to me with his little sly smile and he said “I’m not always the person that you think I am in these lines.” Half the time he’s the receiver. I’m very aware of the fact that Paul is Matt’s writer’s ego. Paul is Matt kind of ruminating on his writer self, and oftentimes beating up on his writer self, and it’s a lot of fun to be the subject of that.
Yeah, you’re like a walking id.
Kind of! Peggy is really—and he’s said this in the press many times—Peggy is really Matt at heart. She is the heart of this series, so it’s fun to play with that, when Paul and Peggy are together.
They make an interesting team. I want to change directions, and I want you to tell me what it’s like getting splattered with blood!
That was one of those moments. They brought in the special effects team that had done a lot of Tarantino’s early movies. I forget what [movie it was]. I think it was Pulp Fiction: The guy gets shot in the face in the back of the car and you get that great blood spatter. I think it was Pulp Fiction, right?
These are the guys who did that. So they brought in this great team, and we’ve shot so much of it, and we’re finally getting to the point where we are going to do the blood splatter. They’re loading up this pneumatic blood-spraying cannon with a swivel head and they’re loading it with tons of liquid blood, and then pieces of cloth that will form clumps. We were going to try to do it in one take, we ended up doing it in one take, and so the whole set is sort of charged. People had come down to see it, like the writers had come down to see this take. You know, we all know what it’s going to be. Right before they’re about to call “action,” there was amazing energy on set, and I turn to Rich Sommer, my dear friend, and I said “We have the coolest job in the world.”
We really do. It was so much fun, so much fun.
Here I would like to add that “pneumatic blood-spraying cannon with a swivel head” is my most favorite thing I’ve ever transcribed.
You can’t possibly have imagined that this particular job was going to involve the f/x guys from Pulp Fiction.
Never! Never did I think that on the Sterling Cooper set we would be sprayed with blood.
That was amazing!
So much fun.
There’s a blog that I’ve been reading for years, and they started doing a Mad Men Mondays recap. It’s a feminist blog so she often has a very fresh take on it; Pandagon. She did Lois’s lawn mower ride side-by-side with the Zapruder film.
Yes! And it works.
It works. It’s amazing. Why sure, the young handsome guy comes in, talks to everybody about change and how things are going to be different now and is cut down in his prime.
Yeah, there you have it. I had never thought of it that way. That’s better than the Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon.
[laughs] Yes, it is. It is, and you know Matt might have done it on purpose.
Right. I don’t know. That’s a great question. I wouldn’t put it past him.
I can only ask him that kind of a question after the finale because he won’t talk during the season.
But it’s on my list.
That’s awesome. I’m very curious to hear that.